NBA Free-Agency Rankings 2018: Top Available Shooting Guards

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJune 8, 2018

NBA Free-Agency Rankings 2018: Top Available Shooting Guards

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    Whereas the point guards saw upper-tier talents dwindle quickly after the top of the upcoming free-agency class, the shooting guards experience no such issues. Maybe no guaranteed All-Star rests at the head of these rankings, but you can find valuable contributors all the way through. 

    Sharpshooters galore litter this countdown, and that's not the only skill you'll find. Lockdown defenders and more well-rounded contributors are available, as well. 

    But the 2-guards are perhaps most notable for the razor-thin margin that exists between so many of these players. If you believe in bouncebacks from some of those nearer the bottom, you'll want them higher up. Even if you don't, you could make justifiable arguments that flip a few of the spots around; everyone is packed together that tightly. 

    Just as was the case with the point guard hierarchy, these rankings—based on current level of play, age and expected performance during the next contract—should get you started as you build your own mental ladder before the offseason begins in full.

10. Joe Harris

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    Gary Dineen/Getty Images

    Team: Brooklyn Nets

    Age26

    Type of Free AgencyUnrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 10.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.3 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 13.3 PER, 4.07 TPA, minus-0.54 RPM

    Quietly, perhaps because his breakout has come with the lowly Brooklyn Nets, Joe Harris has become one of the NBA's most formidable shooters. You might not see it in his per-game scoring average, but the 26-year-old is a threat to tickle twine from any spot within the half-court set. 

    Harris knocked down 49.1 percent of his field-goal attempts in 2017-18 despite creating 36.1 percent of his two-pointers and 5.3 percent of his triples off the bounce—strong numbers for a wing not typically viewed as a primary ball-handler. Couple that with a 41.9 percent clip from downtown and an 82.7 percent conversion rate at the line, and you have that well-roundedness that's boosted his stock substantially. 

    In fact, Harris was one of only six players to qualify for the three-point leaderboard and slash at least 49/41/82:

    His lack of national prominence, passing limitations and subpar defensive chops likely won't allow him to make nearly as much money as any other members of that exclusive club. But this 2-guard can shoot the basketball, and that's one of the most valuable skills in today's NBA.  

    Honorable Mentions: Seth Curry (unrestricted), Danny Green (player option), Dwyane Wade (unrestricted)

9. Austin Rivers

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    Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

    TeamLos Angeles Clippers

    Age25

    Type of Free AgencyPlayer Option

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 15.1 points, 2.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.3 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 12.6 PER, minus-38.07 TPA, minus-0.97 RPM

    Austin Rivers' reputation still hasn't recovered from his early-career struggles after the New Orleans Pelicans made him the No. 10 pick of the 2012 NBA draft. But he's since earned his minutes with the Los Angeles Clippers; he hasn't been handed an opportunity just because his father happens to serve as the team's head coach. 

    The 25-year-old combo guard hasn't yet decided whether he'll opt out of his player option for $12.7 million, as reported by Clutch Sports' Tomer Azarly. Remaining in LAC would probably be the smart decision, given his comfort with the current system and the relative scarcity of money saved for backcourt players of his caliber. Maybe he'd find more long-term security on the open market, but he might be sacrificing some of his paycheck. 

    Plus, the Clippers would presumably enjoy the continued luxury of his underrated defensive chops. 

    A consistent three-point stroke has done wonders for Rivers' offense, but defense will remain his calling card unless he suddenly figures out how to finish more plays at the hoop or develops touch from mid-range zones. And that's fine, considering he boasts a strong combination of lateral quickness and instincts that allow him to intuit the intended positions of his adversaries. 

    Don't be fooled by many of his shoddy defensive metrics, as they tend to look down upon undersized 2-guards who don't record inordinate numbers of boards, blocks or steals (see: Klay Thompson and Avery Bradley). Rivers isn't a stopper of that caliber, but he's a steady presence who can assume tough responsibilities without sacrificing his growing offensive game. 

8. Wayne Ellington

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    Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

    Team: Miami Heat

    Age: 30

    Type of Free AgencyUnrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 11.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.1 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 12.5 PER, 0.0 TPA, minus-0.31 RPM

    Wayne Ellington isn't going to hold his own on the defensive end. He's never going to find much success as a distributing 2-guard. You can't expect him to pull down boards, finish plays inside the arc or make many trips to the free-throw line. 

    But that's all fine because he's one of the league's true snipers. 

    The numbers are impressive on their own. Ellington spent the 2017-18 campaign taking 7.5 triples per game for the Miami Heat, and he connected on 39.2 percent of those hoists. Considering he played just 26.5 minutes per contest, that's an astounding blend of volume and efficiency. In fact, Stephen Curry (2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18) and Troy Daniels (2017-18) are the only qualified gunners who have matched his accuracy level and 10.2 tries per 36 minutes during any season in NBA history.

    But because of the sheer difficulty of some makes, Ellington's impact goes well beyond the raw numbers. 

    His job description is simple under head coach Erik Spoelstra: jet around the perimeter in search of the tiniest modicum of space. When he finds the smallest possible opening, he's allowed to rise and fire in spite of defenders closing the already minimal gap.

    Whether he's leaning to the side or able to set his feet and rise vertically, he puts his shots on target. 

    "That's that first prerogative is getting defenders to quit," Spoelstra explained in late January, per Andre C. Fernandez of the Miami Herald. "And then you train for that and have the ability to come off full-speed and make those kinds of difficult shots that sometimes are contested, but sometimes your body's contorted in different ways; that is an unbelievable skill that you have to train very hard for."

7. Avery Bradley

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    Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

    TeamLos Angeles Clippers

    Age27

    Type of Free AgencyUnrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 14.3 points, 2.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.2 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 9.6 PER, minus-120.98 TPA, minus-2.77 RPM

    Can we just forget about Avery Bradley's miserable season?

    Though he entered the 2017-18 campaign as a seemingly solid fit alongside Andre Drummond and the Detroit Pistons, he was instead disastrous. Everything went wrong, ranging from his turnover troubles to his inability to finish plays inside the arc; from his defensive slippage to his incompatibility with the schemes run in the Motor City. 

    Before a midseason trade to the Los Angeles Clippers—where injuries mercifully shortened his calendar, but only after his three-point stroke disappeared entirely—he'd been dropping the Pistons' net rating by a staggering 8.5 points per 100 possessions while on the floor. He finished the year ahead of only 10 players in NBA Math's TPA, which makes his No. 434 finish in ESPN.com's RPM look downright miraculous by comparison. 

    But expecting a bounce-back isn't unreasonable, especially if Bradley is fully recovered from the sports hernia that, per Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times, plagued him throughout his disappointing efforts.

    If injuries are to blame for the decline just when this 2-guard was supposed to be entering his athletic prime, suitors may be able to view him as the player who'd blossomed into a three-and-D standout for the Boston Celtics, terrorizing opponents with his point-preventing prowess and spot-up acumen. 

    However, that's a precarious endeavor, and contracts are typically geared to account for that inherent level of risk. Bradley is far from a sure thing this summer. 

6. Zach LaVine

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    Brian Sevald/Getty Images

    Team: Chicago Bulls

    Age23

    Type of Free AgencyRestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 16.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.2 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 14.6 PER, minus-34.93 TPA, minus-3.42 RPM

    Looking past Bradley's injury trouble is one thing, considering the nature of the malady. Writing off Zach LaVine's checkered past is a more difficult endeavor; not solely because of the ACL tear, but because of the cascading repercussions. 

    The uber-athletic 2-guard wasn't able to make his 2017-18 debut until a Jan. 13 contest against the Detroit Pistons. He suited up just 24 times before he was shut down to deal with knee tendinitis. Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg indicated that he didn't have long-term concerns about that latest issue, but it's still a troubling development for a player whose game is largely predicated upon his athletic superiority. 

    Nonetheless, LaVine is only 23 years old. That youth lets him slot in just above Bradley in these rankings, though both players now make for risky investments. And that's doubly true for this dunking machine who could only slash 38.3/34.1/81.3 during his few appearances this season. 

    He could rekindle the offensive magic he discovered once the Minnesota Timberwolves finally realized he was far better in off-ball scenarios alongside a traditional point guard. That upside is substantial, to the point that he could not just justify this spot right ahead of Bradley but also outproduce every shooting guard yet to appear in this countdown.

    But if you're the one handing LaVine nearly $20 million per season (or perhaps more if someone really leans into the upside), are you truly going to feel confident in the investment? 

5. Will Barton

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

    TeamDenver Nuggets

    Age27

    Type of Free AgencyUnrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 15.7 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.6 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 16.2 PER, 54.11 TPA, 0.7 RPM

    If you're willing to live with the flaws, Will Barton can serve as a special offensive force. 

    You have to accept the defensive porosity, as the 27-year-old has yet to figure out how he can parlay a physical frame into actual production on the stopping side. You have to deal with the inevitable possessions in which he decides he's shooting no matter what, leading to either an ill-advised perimeter jack or a reckless drive into traffic that yields a turnover or dumb shot. But you may be fine with all that, considering this wing's innate talent as both a scorer and a (somewhat reluctant) distributor. 

    Plus, his confidence is noteworthy. He bet on himself before his breakout with the Denver Nuggets, and it could pay off this summer. As ESPN.com's Chris Haynes detailed in a tremendous look at the highs and lows of Barton's basketball career:

    "Barton has come a long way since his DNP-CDs in Portland, but he will face another moment of uncertainty in his NBA career this offseason, when he will be an unrestricted free agent. Last summer, after hiring Aaron Goodwin as his agent, Barton turned down a four-year, $42 million extension in early October, league sources told ESPN. That was the most Denver could offer, given salary-cap rules.

    "Goodwin told Barton to bet on himself, and Barton has put up strong numbers. But the 27-year-old will be entering a different market than free agents in recent summers. Due to the abundance of spending after the new TV revenue deal kicked in, money appears to have drastically dried up for this class."

    Money may be hard to come by for this crop of free agents, but someone should find some for a shooting guard who just averaged 15.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists while shooting 45.2 percent from the field, 37.0 percent from the outside and 80.5 percent from the stripe. 

    Barton has his flaws, sure. He's still one of the few talents who can serve as a convincing distributor, show off his athleticism with thunderous finishes at the hoop and knock down triples while creating a substantial portion off the bounce. 

4. Marcus Smart

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    TeamBoston Celtics

    Age24

    Type of Free AgencyRestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 10.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.3 steals, 0.4 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 10.8 PER, minus-16.14 TPA, 0.96 RPM

    Marcus Smart can't be defined by mere numbers.

    Though shooting is a vital skill for guards in today's NBA, he's a woeful marksman from beyond the arc, connecting on only 30.1 percent of his triples while taking a whopping 4.6 per game in 2017-18. That's actually the most accurate he's been during any of the last three seasons. And yet, the imprecision doesn't seem to matter for this unique figure. 

    Smart would be a more valuable presence if he could draw even the teensiest amount of defensive attention when spotting up on the perimeter. But whereas some spacing liabilities get glued to the bench, he's carved out an important role for himself with his passing, defensive intensity and relentless hustle plays.

    Only 12 players grabbed more loose balls per game than Smart's 2.3, which isn't too shabby for a player ranked No. 93 in minutes per game. He was always willing to sacrifice his body, whether hitting the hardwood in pursuit of a 50/50 chance or stepping in front of a driving player to draw a charge. And that's saying nothing of the physical toll exacted by his willingness to body up against bigger offensive opponents—guards and forwards alike. 

    During the playoffs, the Boston Celtics were 4.1 points per 100 possessions better with Smart on the floor—the No. 3 differential of any rostered player, trailing just Al Horford (13.9) and Jayson Tatum (12.3). That number stood at 4.7 during the regular season, as the Beantown residents saw their net rating swell from 1.8 to 6.5 when he played. 

    Maybe he can be defined by numbers, after all.

3. JJ Redick

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    TeamPhiladelphia 76ers

    Age33

    Type of Free AgencyUnrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 2.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 15.9 PER, 0.0 TPA, 0.57 RPM

    Maybe we shouldn't go so far as saying JJ Redick gets better with age, but the 33-year-old sniper certainly isn't declining. Though some marginal efficiency slippage prevented him from posting anything better than the No. 4 score of his career in offensive box plus/minus, he did manage to set lifetime bests in points and rebounds per game while his assists per contest lagged behind only the marks earned in 2012-13. 

    The Philadelphia 76ers presented a perfect fit for his skills while he operated on a one-year balloon deal alongside Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. They could cover up for his defensive porosity with constant switching and strong work on the interior, they allowed him to occasionally serve as a secondary distributor and they needed his floor-spacing aptitude. 

    Especially at this stage of his NBA tenure, Redick is most appealing because of that last characteristic. 

    Though his passing acumen shouldn't be overlooked, he's still one of the league's deadliest shooters. For the Sixers, he took 6.6 triples per game and connected at a 42.0 percent clip. Whether hitting one-dribble pull-ups or curling around screens for catch-and-shoot opportunities, he was a devastating presence who demanded constant vigilance from his adversaries.

    That's not going to change in the near future, especially after he comes off a volume/efficiency combination matched by only six different players throughout NBA history: Ray Allen, Stephen Curry (five times), Reggie Miller (with a shortened arc), Dennis Scott (with a shortened arc), Peja Stojakovic (twice) and Klay Thompson (three times). He's still one of the NBA's best specialists, and it's thanks to a skill Father Time typically struggles to touch. 

2. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

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    Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

    TeamLos Angeles Lakers

    Age: 25

    Type of Free AgencyUnrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 13.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.4 steals, 0.2 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 13.2 PER, 51.36 TPA, 0.64 RPM

    Though Kentavious Caldwell-Pope failed to steal many headlines from Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and the rest of the youthful Los Angeles Lakers while operating on a one-year balloon deal of his own, he checked all the boxes that needed checking. 

    The 25-year-old had previously looked the part of a three-and-D wing, but only for short spurts. He'd never served as an above-average marksman during his four-year tenure with the Detroit Pistons, and his work on the preventing end had always been inconsistent. But that changed in Tinseltown. 

    First, take a gander at the three-point progression: 

    • 2013-14: 31.9 percent on 2.3 attempts per game
    • 2014-15: 34.5 percent on 5.4 attempts per game
    • 2015-16 30.9 percent on 4.9 attempts per game
    • 2016-17: 35.0 percent on 5.8 attempts per game
    • 2017-18: 38.3 percent on 5.6 attempts per game

    "I would venture to guess there's people in the room that are familiar with the stories in the book of Genesis, where there was a time when the Israelites were wandering in the desert and all the sudden bread came down from heaven," general manager Rob Pelinka stated at Caldwell-Pope's introductory press conference this summer. "That's kind of what today feels like for us to have KCP join."

    Let's maybe not go so far as establishing "manna" as the former Bulldogs' moniker of choice, but he did indeed have a helping-his-Lakers-out-of-the-desert impact on the defensive end. Able to assume tough assignments every outing—though sometimes struggling with the transition to nightly battles against Western Conference stars—he validated that three-and-D line of thinking.

    Even if he didn't "improve" per se, he maintained his stopping abilities while growing as an efficient shooter. 

1. Tyreke Evans

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    Joe Murphy/Getty Images

    TeamMemphis Grizzlies

    Age28

    Type of Free AgencyUnrestricted

    2017-18 Per-Game Stats: 19.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.3 blocks

    2017-18 Advanced Metrics: 21.1 PER, 114.38 TPA, 3.54 RPM

    Before last year's free agency, I had Tyreke Evans ranked as the No. 37 player set to hit the open market. Just among those listed as shooting guards, he trailed Dion Waiters, Dwyane Wade, C.J. Miles, Tony Snell, Andre Roberson, Patty Mills, JJ Redick, Andre Iguodala and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. 

    I don't regret that. Evans was a relatively unappealing commodity ostensibly on the decline, and the NBA agreed. He could only muster a one-year contract from the Memphis Grizzlies worth $3.3 million.

    And then everything clicked. 

    Evans didn't just average a jaw-dropping 19.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.2 assists for the Beale Street residents, but he did so while playing solid defense, keeping his turnovers in check and slashing an impressive 45.2/39.9/78.5. Buoyed by a convincing three-point stroke, he put defenders into a pickle whenever he was on the floor. 

    Should they press up on him in transition and risk a blow-by from the oversized, speedy guard? Should they sag back and cede deep attempts? The right answer never emerged, because Evans managed to finish plays from all over the floor while establishing himself as the team's top source of offensive production in Mike Conley's lengthy absence. 

    Though he didn't receive the accolade, the 28-year-old played like an All-Star. Despite injuries forcing him to miss 30 games—the vast majority of which came after the midseason festivities—he finished No. 35 in NBA Math's TPA. Only 25 players earned better scores in ESPN.com's RPM

    Teams may be reasonably hesitant to invest heavily in a player moving out of his athletic prime and coming off a narrative-shifting season. But Evans is still entering this year's free-agency period in far better shape.

              

    Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.

    Unless otherwise indicated, all stats courtesy of Basketball Reference, NBA.com, NBA Math or ESPN.com and accurate heading into Game 4 of the NBA Finals.